Competing at the NCAA track and field championships is a tough task. A single point probably will decide which team wins the title and what school may fall out of the top 10.
Qualifying for the biggest collegiate meet of the year also is a huge challenge. It’s no longer based on a timed run at any point in the outdoor season. Instead, it takes a special, three-day meet. There will be two such meets — for teams in the east and in the west — to decide who moves on to next month’s national meet in Oregon.
Texas gets the luxury of staying home. The Longhorns play host to the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds, which run Thursday through Saturday at Myers Stadium.
UT will soon see whether track familiarity translates into qualifiers.
“It’s important for our program,” said UT coach Mario Sategna. “It’s a definite advantage to be here … I know for our student-athletes, I know they’re excited about this.”
The top 48 individuals in each event qualified for the regional. So did the best 24 relays at each distance. From there, participants will move through the quarterfinals. The top 12 from each event move on to Eugene, Ore., for the national meet on June 8-11.
The west region is ultra competitive. Eligible participants can come from every state west of the Mississippi River, minus Louisiana but plus Wisconsin and Illinois.
That means the field will include traditional powers Texas A&M, Oregon and Arkansas. The Pac-12 is headed to Austin. So is the Big 12.
“Everybody here, it now becomes survival of the fittest,” Sategna said. “It’s nothing against the east region. Year in and year out, when you’re looking at the top performances (they) come out of the west region.”
The meet already lost one of its stars when Oregon announced distance runner Edward Cheserek won’t compete in Austin. Cheserek is the winningest track athlete in history, with 17 titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. He won two events at last year’s NCAAs, but because he has a lower back injury, he can’t compete in Austin and won’t be able to run next month.
Sategna is hoping that his men and women’s teams will combine to have at least 20 qualifiers. They’re already among the top five in the men and women for the number of regional qualifiers.
Two Longhorns already are through to Eugene. The decathlon doesn’t have regional qualifying, so Wolf Mahler, whose top point total ranks eighth nationally, and Steele Wasik (11th) already are in the national meet. Wasik is entered in the 110-meter hurdles in Austin, so he’ll be trying for an extra event.
The Texas women will hope to dominate the 400 meters and the 1600 relay. It’s been their best event at the NCAAs. Chrisann Gordon’s time of 50.64 ranks second nationally. Zola Golden ranks 12th.
Plus, freshman Rushelle Burton’s time of 12.65 is tops in the country in the 100 hurdles. Teammate Ashley Miller is fourth best in the region and Ashley Miller is 14th.
For the UT men, keep an eye on A.J. Bailey, who will be running the 200, 400 and a leg on the 400 relay. He’s seventh in the region in the 200.
Other ultra competitive events:
The women’s pole vault features competitors with 11 of the top 15 heights in the nation. Arkansas’ Lexi Weeks is the defending NCAA champion.
The women’s sprints also should be incredibly tight. Seven of the nation’s top 12 in the 100 are entered in Austin, while eight of the top 12 are in the 200.
NCAA WEST PRELIMS
Thursday-Saturday, Myers Stadium
Thursday: Field events start at 11 a.m., running events at 4:30 p.m.
Friday: Running events start at noon, field events at 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: Field events start at 1 p.m., running events at 6 p.m.